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Subject: Consensus on Balance? rss

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Which side is favored in your/the communities' opinion?

For beginners/advanced players? With/without expansions?

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Henrik Schmidt
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After my vast experience of one game without expansion the SP is favored.

The FPP has to find a good rythm between defending and advancing the ring. My friend opted to go for a FP military victory instead and failed hard.
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I've played two games. The first was learning and we messed up hard on some rules so that doesn't count (FP military win though)

Our first real game, SP won with military, 1 turn away from FP ring win.
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They are really balanced, it almost amazes me. I keep studying the games design in terms of balance and it astonishes me, I'm not sure how they balanced it this well. Sure they compromise in places (parts of the maps almost always go unused), but it is not as much on rails as you would think.

So trust me, it is very balanced. But where it is not balanced is in the experience level of players. Two relative beginners can encounter a runaway lead with a win for shadow players. And an experienced free peoples player will defeat less experienced shadow player almost always as well - I've seen games where Frodo gets to Mount Doom without anyone spotting him - ever.

A great, great game design.
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On the online play, which has 1563 games logged its 50.2% to Shadow and 49.8% to Free, so I think you can safely say, its very finely balanced.
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ASelby wrote:
On the online play, which has 1563 games logged its 50.2% to Shadow and 49.8% to Free, so I think you can safely say, its very finely balanced.


And those numbers are utterly amazing for a game that has two sides that play differently and start up in a very different setup. I still haven't figured out how that is possible.
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ASelby wrote:
On the online play, which has 1563 games logged its 50.2% to Shadow and 49.8% to Free, so I think you can safely say, its very finely balanced.


This is the best answer the OP is going to get.

While each player's experience and track record is individual and a small dataset, vulnerable to 'group think' where games follow similar patterns of behviour, 1500 games from many different people is a much more objective assessment.

So I think it's an individual choice on which you prefer, and which side a particular player might be best at. Some people prefer the slightly more restrictive options of the Shadow (though there is still plenty of variety, especially if you also include the expansion) while the Free People side feels a bit more difficult to me. I have seen players (including myself) completely waste turns as the FP and/or get distracted, usually due to a poor evaluation the game situation.

This can be devastating, for example the FP player might panic and move the fellowship too many times in 1 turn (as happened in my last game and as I have done once before) or get totally distracted pushing for a military victory when they didn't need to. Then there's the critical decision of which companions to separate, when, and where to send them. The FP options are massive and it seems to me it's easy to make just a couple of sub-optimal decisions and turn a strong position into a losing one.

In contrast, for most players the Shadow strategy is a bit simpler - mostly a case of trying to be efficient both in mobilising your own troops and in making the FP player waste actions (on political actions etc) and deciding which FP settlements you will try to get your 10 points from. Mustering minions as soon as they become available might not be optimal, but it doesn't seem like it could be disastrous either. I realise there are valid corruption strategies by utilising the Nazgul or army unit to force rerolls, and of course by playing certain cards and allocating more dice to the Hunt. The expansion makes a corruption strategy even more valid I think, due to the Witch King's new ring-hunting abilities.

So far as I can tell, the experience of the players is really the main factor in giving the appearance of imbalance which a few have expressed. The game itself is surprisingly well balanced, as proven by the on line stats.
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Andrew's stat is a little misleading because lots of the games are between people of different skill where the experienced player would win most of the time regardless of side.

It's hard to quantify, but I think games between experienced players are around 55%/45% for the Shadow. In the tournament we occasionally bid to choose sides, and I don't think I've ever seen someone bid to be the Free Peoples. But you could also argue that's just group think. I think the Lords of Middle Earth expansion slightly favors the Free Peoples, so that might bring it closer to 50/50.

For beginner players, it really depends on the group. Some new players post that the game is wildly unbalanced for Shadow, while others post the same for the Free. It just depends on how fast your group figures out the strategies for each side.
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Slashdoctor wrote:
They are really balanced, it almost amazes me. I keep studying the games design in terms of balance and it astonishes me, I'm not sure how they balanced it this well. Sure they compromise in places (parts of the maps almost always go unused), but it is not as much on rails as you would think.

So trust me, it is very balanced. But where it is not balanced is in the experience level of players. Two relative beginners can encounter a runaway lead with a win for shadow players. And an experienced free peoples player will defeat less experienced shadow player almost always as well - I've seen games where Frodo gets to Mount Doom without anyone spotting him - ever.

A great, great game design.


100% concur. It's almost like this game was play tested for 10 years before it went to market. I realize it had some balance issues with the first edition but I never played that. All I can say is this is easily the most balanced asymmetrical game ever. Only way to make it more balanced would be to make it a complete game with no hidden info and no difference between the sides, like an LOTR Chess which would be lame.
 
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Teamjimby wrote:
Andrew's stat is a little misleading because lots of the games are between people of different skill where the experienced player would win most of the time regardless of side.

It's hard to quantify, but I think games between experienced players are around 55%/45% for the Shadow. In the tournament we occasionally bid to choose sides, and I don't think I've ever seen someone bid to be the Free Peoples. But you could also argue that's just group think. I think the Lords of Middle Earth expansion slightly favors the Free Peoples, so that might bring it closer to 50/50.

For beginner players, it really depends on the group. Some new players post that the game is wildly unbalanced for Shadow, while others post the same for the Free. It just depends on how fast your group figures out the strategies for each side.


I'm sorry but that is an ignorant manipulation of statistics by giving.. your made up statistics.

So what that players of different experience skill levels are playing? It does not matter. Because if you know something about statistics, then the statistics should still be skewed towards one faction or another at a sample size that big.

It's almost like saying that chess is not in balance because it is sometimes played by players of different skill levels while black and white are at 50/50 percentage wise.
 
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Slashdoctor wrote:
I'm sorry but that is an ignorant manipulation of statistics by giving.. your made up statistics.

So what that players of different experience skill levels are playing? It does not matter. Because if you know something about statistics, then the statistics should still be skewed towards one faction or another at a sample size that big.

It's almost like saying that chess is not in balance because it is sometimes played by players of different skill levels while black and white are at 50/50 percentage wise.

Calm down, no need to call anyone ignorant. My numbers are based on the online ladder (docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AtLN1dNc0SyedExSbzMtZjg...). If you look at the people that have played 100+ games - an arbitrary number to determine "significant sample size" - there are 9 people.

Of those people, the average Shadow score is 632 and the average Free score is 575. The way the ladder works, this difference of 57 points indicates that the shadow wins about 18.5 out of every 32 games, or about 58% of the games. I rounded to 55%. Whether I use 50 games, 100 games, top 10 players, or some other arbitrary cutoff it always comes out to 55 to 60 percent for shadow.

Actually looking at the ladder again, I don't think Andrew's original number is accurate. Yes, the average shadow score is 502 and the average free score is 498, but that doesn't mean it's a 50.2%/49.8% split. For one thing, nearly half of that average is calculated from players that have fewer than 4 games played, so there are a bunch of 500's diluting the average.
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Teamjimby wrote:
Slashdoctor wrote:
I'm sorry but that is an ignorant manipulation of statistics by giving.. your made up statistics.

So what that players of different experience skill levels are playing? It does not matter. Because if you know something about statistics, then the statistics should still be skewed towards one faction or another at a sample size that big.

It's almost like saying that chess is not in balance because it is sometimes played by players of different skill levels while black and white are at 50/50 percentage wise.

Calm down, no need to call anyone ignorant. My numbers are based on the online ladder (docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AtLN1dNc0SyedExSbzMtZjg...). If you look at the people that have played 100+ games - an arbitrary number to determine "significant sample size" - there are 9 people.

Of those people, the average Shadow score is 632 and the average Free score is 575. The way the ladder works, this difference of 57 points indicates that the shadow wins about 18.5 out of every 32 games, or about 58% of the games. I rounded to 55%. Whether I use 50 games, 100 games, top 10 players, or some other arbitrary cutoff it always comes out to 55 to 60 percent for shadow.

Actually looking at the ladder again, I don't think Andrew's original number is accurate. Yes, the average shadow score is 502 and the average free score is 498, but that doesn't mean it's a 50.2%/49.8% split. For one thing, nearly half of that average is calculated from players that have fewer than 4 games played, so there are a bunch of 500's diluting the average.


Problem is that those people with less than 4 games played are mpre valuable than the players who have more. It is the players who have hundreds of games played who skew statistics and create group think.
 
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Slashdoctor wrote:
Teamjimby wrote:
Slashdoctor wrote:
I'm sorry but that is an ignorant manipulation of statistics by giving.. your made up statistics.

So what that players of different experience skill levels are playing? It does not matter. Because if you know something about statistics, then the statistics should still be skewed towards one faction or another at a sample size that big.

It's almost like saying that chess is not in balance because it is sometimes played by players of different skill levels while black and white are at 50/50 percentage wise.

Calm down, no need to call anyone ignorant. My numbers are based on the online ladder (docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AtLN1dNc0SyedExSbzMtZjg...). If you look at the people that have played 100+ games - an arbitrary number to determine "significant sample size" - there are 9 people.

Of those people, the average Shadow score is 632 and the average Free score is 575. The way the ladder works, this difference of 57 points indicates that the shadow wins about 18.5 out of every 32 games, or about 58% of the games. I rounded to 55%. Whether I use 50 games, 100 games, top 10 players, or some other arbitrary cutoff it always comes out to 55 to 60 percent for shadow.

Actually looking at the ladder again, I don't think Andrew's original number is accurate. Yes, the average shadow score is 502 and the average free score is 498, but that doesn't mean it's a 50.2%/49.8% split. For one thing, nearly half of that average is calculated from players that have fewer than 4 games played, so there are a bunch of 500's diluting the average.


Problem is that those people with less than 4 games played are mpre valuable than the players who have more. It is the players who have hundreds of games played who skew statistics and create group think.
Umm, that's crazy talk.

You don't judge balance of a game by new players. You judge balance by people who have examined the game deeply, and thought about every strategic corner. Those are the ones who determine balance.
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Slashdoctor wrote:
Problem is that those people with less than 4 games played are mpre valuable than the players who have more. It is the players who have hundreds of games played who skew statistics and create group think.

That's why I gave the caveat in my original number that it's based on experienced players. The group think argument is possible, but that seems less likely when there are 100+ players on the ladder from around the world.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if it's effectively a 50/50 split for newer players. In the scheme of things, even a 58/42 split is very balanced for such an asymmetrical game.

EDIT: For comparison, I just browsed the Twilight Struggle forums to see what the balance is in that game. The theme is obviously different, but it otherwise shares a lot in common with WotR. Based on their ladder, the balance is about 56/44 in favor of the USSR. So, you could say that WotR is roughly as balanced as Twilight Struggle.
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ASelby wrote:
On the online play, which has 1563 games logged its 50.2% to Shadow and 49.8% to Free, so I think you can safely say, its very finely balanced.

In US politics, that would mean a mandate for the Shadow party.

Four more ages! Four more ages!
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Teamjimby wrote:
Slashdoctor wrote:
Problem is that those people with less than 4 games played are mpre valuable than the players who have more. It is the players who have hundreds of games played who skew statistics and create group think.

That's why I gave the caveat in my original number that it's based on experienced players. The group think argument is possible, but that seems less likely when there are 100+ players on the ladder from around the world.

I log more plays a year off ladder than on. Not to dis your stats or your analysis, or those arguing contra, but this is not a laboratory experiment with controls. I think the ladder stats deserve consideration with the caveat that they are an imperfect measure.
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Slashdoctor wrote:
ASelby wrote:
On the online play, which has 1563 games logged its 50.2% to Shadow and 49.8% to Free, so I think you can safely say, its very finely balanced.


And those numbers are utterly amazing for a game that has two sides that play differently and start up in a very different setup. I still haven't figured out how that is possible.


It is possible partly because the game has been out for over 10 years.

Threads on balance in the game are legion. Nobody has ever really said anything concerning perceived imbalance that was convincing. It's really more of a case that everyone learned to play well.

Just look at the tiny tweak in 2e. Very, very minor. Card wording and a dwarf at setup to discourage the DEW rush, basically. The balance is exquisite.
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Rafamir wrote:
ASelby wrote:
On the online play, which has 1563 games logged its 50.2% to Shadow and 49.8% to Free, so I think you can safely say, its very finely balanced.

In US politics, that would mean a mandate for the Shadow party.

Four more ages! Four more ages!


But you haven't counted the over-seas votes yet. And they are sure to favor the FP.
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I haven't played any online games so I can't speak to that discussion, but as far as balance goes, I would say it is almost perfect. Between me and a handful of other guys, we have around 30 games in. At this point, it seems that every game goes down to the wire. In fact, it has happened a few times lately where the ring was destroyed in the same round as the SP achieving 10 Victory points. I love how the game never plays the same way twice and yet always seems so close at the end.
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Many of the statistics, how imperfect they may be, show that it is pretty balanced. The discussion and their arguments, maybe show it even more. No conclusive argument can be found and many think is pretty balanced.

Given the many factors that play a role (favouring one side, the many opportunities/choices, many interactions, difference in skill, etc), I would argue it is very balanced (for very asymmetric game).
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The scientific approach is to assume the null hypothesis unless there is good evidence to the contrary, and in this case the null hypothesis is that the game is balanced.

So in the absence of good statistics to the contrary I think it's safe to say that at high levels the game is at least as balanced as chess - which has a roughly 55% advantage to white at high levels. Even the stats suggesting the greatest imbalance are within a similar range.
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crambaza wrote:
You don't judge balance of a game by new players. You judge balance by people who have examined the game deeply, and thought about every strategic corner. Those are the ones who determine balance.


I disagree to some extent. In a game like WotR the two approaches are both quite valid because the rules and possibilities are so extensive and specific - which approach a particular person prefers will depend on their own level of play.

For example a novice chess player should not care that white has the advantage at Master level. So far as they are concerned the game is perfectly balanced, and this is borne out in statistics for weaker players.

In the case of WotR we may actually find the game favours different sides depending on the level of the players. One side might be easier to pick up and play competently while the other side might be favoured at elite levels but only because those players know the best tricks to use for that side. For me as a novice who doesn't particularly plan on studying strategy in-depth, I don't really care what happens at elite levels because I'm not playing in the elite sphere.

In this case the OP specifically asks for both levels of experience, so I think it's perfectly valid to provide answers and reasoning which only address one or the other, or both combined.

And either way, it seems the answer is that the game is surprisingly well balanced - enough that personal preference and experience play a much bigger role than any inherent advantage. So as new-ish players, just pick whichever sides you fancy and do not worry about which side has the advantage. You can always swap around next time anyway.
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I think David makes a good point. It is useful to know how the game plays for new players or an imbalance in abilities. It can help in choosing sides or bidding for starting resources.

But I would agree with crambaza on the point that the ultimate game balance should not be based on observation of inexperienced players. Because they could fall prey to some of the basic pitfalls, it could lead to some premature and incorrect conclusions about game balance. It happens all the time, BTW, WotR is no exception in this regard.

So, I would qualify his statement to say "people who are reasonably familiar with the game" rather than "examined the game deeply." And after all, most people who encounter the game are not going to log the number of plays that some of the experts here have. My experience is that, after you get over the learning curve of some of the gotchas, you realize that the balance is really, really fine. Most of my games have gone down to the wire. Many times, the last tile draw.
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If you don't balance the game based upon high level players, then you give the game a shelf life.

Imagine a game where for the first 5 plays, it feels pretty even.

Over the next 5 plays, you "feel" that one side is stronger.

10 plays later, you know that side B is better, and you shelf the game, and are done with it.

No one wants that.

So, ultimately, that's where the balance point has to be. Now, I don't know where in my post I said that this has to come at the expense of balance at lower levels. You can still relatively balance a game for lower tiers too, but any changes made in design should account for high level players.

Taking this game, I think such a point has been reached. High level play shows a small preference for Shadow victories. To combat this, the "dwarven ring" bid is implemented. It's a small change to help balance top tier play, but at lower skill levels, it could still be used, and have minimal effect on the game. Newer players are already being less efficient with their turns, and a few dwarven rings in their hands wouldn't be game breaking. I find it an excellent decision.
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Teamjimby wrote:
Slashdoctor wrote:
I'm sorry but that is an ignorant manipulation of statistics by giving.. your made up statistics.

So what that players of different experience skill levels are playing? It does not matter. Because if you know something about statistics, then the statistics should still be skewed towards one faction or another at a sample size that big.

It's almost like saying that chess is not in balance because it is sometimes played by players of different skill levels while black and white are at 50/50 percentage wise.

Calm down, no need to call anyone ignorant. My numbers are based on the online ladder (docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AtLN1dNc0SyedExSbzMtZjg...). If you look at the people that have played 100+ games - an arbitrary number to determine "significant sample size" - there are 9 people.

Of those people, the average Shadow score is 632 and the average Free score is 575. The way the ladder works, this difference of 57 points indicates that the shadow wins about 18.5 out of every 32 games, or about 58% of the games. I rounded to 55%. Whether I use 50 games, 100 games, top 10 players, or some other arbitrary cutoff it always comes out to 55 to 60 percent for shadow.

Actually looking at the ladder again, I don't think Andrew's original number is accurate. Yes, the average shadow score is 502 and the average free score is 498, but that doesn't mean it's a 50.2%/49.8% split. For one thing, nearly half of that average is calculated from players that have fewer than 4 games played, so there are a bunch of 500's diluting the average.


I think that this is the most accurate assessment on balance. In 2014, the actual number of games completed on the ladder was 629, with the Shadow winning a total of 335 of them, about 53.25%. As Jim points out, the game is even more highly favored to the Shadow among the upper part of the ladder, closer to 55-60%. This is still pretty amazing balance for such an asymmetric game.

On a side note, it is not "group think" when large number of people all play the same game and all come away with the same conclusion......if I am bidding for a side it is to my slight advantage to play as the Shadow. No one on the ladder that I have ever played against has been willing to take the Free for 0 rings, let alone bid to get them. I think that says something.

Also taking into account a bunch of plays by newer players is not a good thing to do if you are really wanting to see how balanced the game is.

Bottom line on balance: The game slightly favors the Shadow, but not very much.

I also agree that the expansion tips things in favor of the Free, though whether that makes it 50\50 or favor the free slightly I am not sure yet.

*Edit* I forgot to add that I think that the Shadow is the trickier side to play, and that newer players take longer to become good with the Shadow than they do the Free.
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